Alzheimer’s event set for Oct. 27

Published 11:45 pm Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ten years ago, few Americans had ever heard of Alzheimer’s disease. Yet today, this progressive and irreversible brain disease is recognized as one of the most devastating illnesses of our time. Currently, there are 5.1 million people in the USA who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This includes nearly 52,000 Mississippians who have been diagnosed with the disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder named for German physician Alois Alzheimer, who first described it in 1906. Like many families today, a 51-year-old woman was brought in to see Dr. Alzheimer by her family. She had developed problems with memory, unfounded suspicions that her husband was unfaithful and difficulty speaking and understanding what was said to her. Her symptoms rapidly grew worse, and within a few years she was bedridden. Having never seen a condition like this, Dr. Alzheimer received the family’s permission to perform an autopsy upon the woman’s death. He found dramatic shrinkage of the brain, especially of the cortex, the outer layer involved in memory, thinking, judgment and speech. He also saw widespread fatty deposits in small blood vessels, dead and dying brain cells and abnormal deposits in and around cells. Alzheimer’s disease was named for this case.

Here we are one hundred and one years later with no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. As a matter of fact, we’ve learned most of what we know about Alzheimer’s in the last 15 years. We know Alzheimer’s disease causes a steady decline in memory and is the leading cause of dementia or the loss of intellectual abilities, thinking, remembering and reasoning — severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily functioning at work or home. We do know Alzheimer’s disease affects people regardless of sex, race, ethnic group or socioeconomic circumstances. We know it is a progressive disease and the fourth leading cause of death among American adults.

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On Sept. 21 – World Alzheimer’s Day – thousands of people and organizations around the world will raise awareness of Alzheimer’s and the 26 million people (more than 5 million in the United States) living with the disease. Researchers predict that by 2050 the global prevalence of the disease will quadruple, affecting more than 100 million individuals. Statistics show every 72 seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. 1 in 10 Americans have a family member with Alzheimer’s and 1 in 3 knows someone with the disease. Alzheimer’s disease costs American businesses $61 billion a year. Of that $24.6 billion covers health care; the remaining billions covers the costs related to caregivers including lost productivity, absenteeism, and worker replacement. Seven in 10 Alzheimer’s patients live at home where 75 percent of care must be provided by family members and friends. Half of all nursing home residents have Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder. If you don’t know someone with this mind-robbing disease, you soon will.

Seniors Behavioral Health Services at Natchez Regional Medical Center is proud to be affiliated with the Mississippi Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Locally, we provide an Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group that meets the second Thursday of every month at Natchez Regional Medical Center at 5:30 p.m. Information and resources are provided to support group participants along with support to help them cope with the stressors that affect them while caring for a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group has been meeting at Natchez Regional Medical Center since July 2006. We have had a wonderful response by group members and positive feedback on how this group has helped them cope with the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. There is one member who has never missed a meeting (You know who you are). New members are welcome to attend at anytime. You will be provided with information on Alzheimer’s in a safe, supportive and confidential environment.

Plans are also underway to have the first annual Memory Walk in Natchez. The Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk is the signature event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer research, care, and support. Teams are the heart of what makes MEMORY WALK so successful. Corporations, families, organizations and groups build teams to honor those who have been touched by Alzheimer’s.

The first annual MEMORY WALK in Natchez will be held on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007 on the Mississippi River Bluff. Registration is at Bowie’s Tavern from 8:30 to 9 a.m. with the walk beginning at 9:15 a.m. If you are interested in participating, forming a team or need additional information, feel free to contact me at (601) 443-2330.

Katie Foster, LSW, is outreach coordinator with Natchez Regional Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Programs.